Protect your plants: Help your garden make it through the long, cold winter

Erika Enigk

Winter’s deep freeze is just around the corner, and perennial plants and flowers need special care to help them through the cold season.

Pete Steiner, manager of Grand Street Gardens in Chicago, shared these tips for keeping plants happy during the winter to ensure blooms in the spring:

Check your zone

Every area of the country has a zone distinction for cold hardiness. Check for your area, then check your plants to find out of they’ll survive the winter.

Most plants want to go dormant in the winter and won’t grow as well if kept warm all year. So if you must bring them inside, keep them in a basement or garage, where they’ll be shielded from the elements but still able to hibernate.

Plant in big containers

Roots grow all the way to the edges of the container the plant is in. If the container is left outside, the roots may freeze hard if they are pushing on the sides.

When leaving containers outside, put them all together in a bunch so they can shield one another from the elements. If possible, put them on the east side of the house, where they won’t be exposed to as much wind.

Cover your roots

Covering the leaves of a bush won’t do much to protect it during the winter, and all you’ll have to look at is a burlap bag. Instead, cover the base of the plant with extra mulch to insulate the roots.

Spray for bugs

For containers that must come inside, start spraying for bugs once a week about a month before bringing them in. And don’t forget to water the plants, even after the leaves have fallen off. In general, containers should come in when the nights start getting cold but not yet freezing -- around 50 degrees.

Think spring

There’s some planting that can be done before the cold season hits; perennial bulbs should go in the ground in the fall.

Pete Steiner, manager of Grand Street Gardens in Chicago, said tulips, daffodils and the like will survive underground and bloom when the weather gets warm.

Squirrels may be an issue – they like to eat bulbs when the soil is loose, Steiner said. Make sure to water the soil well so it stays packed down.

Container plants, however, should wait until spring to be planted, Steiner said. This will give them the warm season to root themselves, which will help them weather the following winter better.

Trees and ground shrubs, however, can be planted during the winter, as most of them will do well coming back in the spring.